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Data from: Nineteenth-century collapse of a benthic marine ecosystem on the open continental shelf

Citation

Tomašových, Adam; Kidwell, Susan M. (2017), Data from: Nineteenth-century collapse of a benthic marine ecosystem on the open continental shelf, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.0r76j

Abstract

The soft-sediment seafloor of the open continental shelf is among the least-known biomes on Earth, despite its high diversity and importance to fisheries and biogeochemical cycling. Abundant dead shells of epifaunal suspension-feeding terebratulid brachiopods (Laqueus) and scallops on the now-muddy mainland continental shelf of southern California reveal the recent, previously unsuspected extirpation of an extensive offshore shell-gravel ecosystem, evidently driven by anthropogenic siltation. Living populations of attached epifauna, which formerly existed in a middle- and outer-shelf mosaic with patches of trophically diverse muds, are restricted today to rocky seafloor along the shelf edge and to the sandier shelves of offshore islands. Geological age-dating of 190 dead brachiopod shells shows that (i) no shells have been produced on the mainland shelf within the last 100 years, (ii) their shell production declined steeply during the nineteenth century, and (iii) they had formerly been present continuously for at least 4 kyr. This loss, sufficiently rapid (less than or equal to 100 years) and thorough to represent an ecosystem collapse, coincides with intensification of alluvial-plain land use in the nineteenth century, particularly livestock grazing. Extirpation was complete by the start of twentieth-century urbanization, warming, bottom fishing and scientific surveys. The loss of this filter-feeding fauna and the new spatial homogeneity and dominance of deposit- and detritus-feeders would have altered ecosystem functioning by reducing habitat heterogeneity and seawater filtering. This discovery, attesting to the power of this geological approach to recent ecological transitions, also strongly increases the spatial scope attributable to the negative effects of siltation, and suggests that it has been under-recognized on continental shelves elsewhere as a legacy of coastal land use.

Usage Notes

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: EAR-1124189

Location

Southern California Bight
California